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National Budget gender lens blurred

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Since her husband’s death five years ago Sindiso Moyo (53) of Budiriro has earned a living through her informal trade business, capitalising on her entrepreneurial flair.

The mother of four was able to see her last child through her final school year courtesy of the profits realised from her vending market.

She gets a $100 monthly pension for her husband, who had worked in government for nearly 20 years at the time of his death, but this is too little to cover all her financial obligations.

“I sell a variety of goods,” she says, “from vegetables and fruits to second-hand clothing items that I get from Mozambique.”

Sometimes, because of too many pressing demands that go deeper than her coffers, she often finds herself without enough money to purchase all the items she would want to re-sell.

“I wish government could come up with programmes to assist us,” she says, despondent. “I’m sure it would help.”

Although the National Budget, presented by Finance minister Tendai Biti makes provision for support to women in Moyo’s circumstances, she is not conversant with the high-brow talk far beyond her literacy level used by the minister in presenting the Budget.

In the 2010 National Budget, presented in 2009, funds were allocated to the Women’s Empowerment Fund to finance projects including poultry, knitting, hairdressing, soap manufacturing and cross-border trading.

“This programme benefited over 2 000 women across all the provinces of Zimbabwe,” Biti said while presenting the 2011 Budget recently.

Biti proposed $500 000 for the fund in 2011 and said the Ministry of Women’s Affairs would deal with the finer details.

“Gender mainstreaming, promotion of equality and gender awareness programmes are the responsibility of the Ministry of Women Affairs,” he said.

Under Article 7 of the Sadc Protocol on Gender and Development, which provides economic rights for women, member states agreed that by 2015, there will be gender sensitive and responsive budgeting at the micro and macro levels.

They also agreed to adopt policies and enact laws which ensure that women have access to credit to establish and sustain enterprises as well as develop training programmes that facilitate the creation and sustainability of women’s entrepreneurial opportunities and the development of women’s entrepreneurial skills.

According to Naomi Chimbetete, the director of Zimbabwe Women Resource Centre Network, a gender responsive budget should acknowledge that men and women played different roles in society, had different needs and responded differently to government spending.

She said while at face value the 2011 Budget looked gender-neutral, reading the fine print revealed that neutrality, in most cases, meant beneficial to men.

“Women constitute 70% of the informal sector,” she said, “but they were overlooked in the Budget for 2011. Sometimes you’re compelled to ask about the rates at borders . . . are they just and fair?”

In the 2011 Budget, Biti noted that customs duty for the current year exceeded their target by
$30,9 million.

“Cumulative revenue collections from customs duty for the period January to October 2010 amounted to $271,9 million, or 15,2% of total revenue, against a target of $241 million,” he said, attributing the positive performance to an increase in the volume of imports.

Biti allocated $2 million to the informal sector, which will be shared among the country’s 10 provinces.
He said there was need to regularise the informal sector and reduce tax to deal with the scourge of tax evasion.

Many female cross-border traders have been forced to devise means of passing through the border with a lot of merchandise undeclared as a means of escaping the taxation, which they feel is punitive and eats deep into their profit margins.

Chimbetete added that it was imperative for the new constitution, which is currently in the making, to have provisions for a gender-sensitive National Budget.

She said although campaigns to erase taxation for sanitaryware for women had been going on for years, it was imperative not to argue at that level anymore, because that sanitaryware was just part of the bigger issue which boiled down to a gender-sensitive Budget.

“The issue is not only about revenue. The argument has been that if Zimbabwe produces cotton (raw material for sanitary pads), why do we have to pay so much? This is reducing the whole argument to sanitary pads,” she said. “There are other strategic issues that are critical, like post-natal care.”

According to Amy Tsanga, the director of the Southern and Eastern African Regional Centre for Women’s Law, “being a woman is life-threatening”, but this is not captured in the constitutional provision for the right to life.

In a July 2010 parliamentary briefing paper, Tsanga noted that as women were coming into the economic arena, already crippled by a patriarchal history in which they were excluded from participation, affirmative action needed to be pushed actively by the state.

She said:

“The current Constitution excludes affirmative action programmes from being regarded as discriminatory. Whilst this is a positive standpoint, it must nonetheless be recognised that affirmative action is not made mandatory. . . There is clearly room for taking a more proactive approach to affirmative action which would ensure that the state takes appropriate measures to introduce affirmative action in areas where it is needed.”

Moyo continues her diligent effort to keep her fledgling trade running, hoping for the day when her efforts at self-sustenance will be acknowledged in the country’s National Budget.

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